Study: Marijuana Legalization Associated With Decreased Sales of Sleep Aids

Legal access to marijuana is associated with a decline in the sales of over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aid medications, according to a new study published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine.

Highlights of the study include:

– Nearly 50% of US populations suffers from sleep disturbances; if cannabis can treat insomnia, this is clinically relevant. 

– Colorado county-level data show OTC sleep aid sales decline with recreational cannabis access, especially for diphenhydramine and doxylamine. 

– The negative association between cannabis access and sleep aid sales suggests a consumer preference for cannabis.

For the study researchers examined trends in the demand for over the counter sleep aids in the years before and immediately after the enactment of marijuana legalization in Colorado.

“For the first time, we show a statistically significant negative association between recreational access to cannabis and OTC sleep aid sales, suggesting that at least some recreational purchasers are using cannabis for therapeutic rather than recreational purposes”, states the study. The results “indicate that enough individuals are switching from OTC sleep aids to recreational cannabis that we can identify a statistically significant reduction in the market share growth of OTC sleep aids in conjunction with access to recreational cannabis using.”

The study concludes by stating that: “Our results show that the market share growth for sleep aids shrank with the entry of recreational cannabis dispensaries… and the strength of the association increased with each subsequent dispensary… Our results are consistent with evidence that legal access to medical cannabis is associated with reductions in Scheduled II-V prescription medications, many of which may be used in part as sleep aids.”

The full abstract can be found below:

This study seeks to understand whether people substitute between recreational cannabis and conventional over-the-counter (OTC) sleep medications. UPC-level grocery store scanner data in a multivariable panel regression design were used to compare the change in the monthly market share of sleep aids with varying dispensary-based recreational cannabis access (existence, sales, and count) in Colorado counties between 12/2013 and 12/2014. We measured annually-differenced market shares for sleep aids as a portion of the overall OTC medication market, thus accounting for store-level demand shifts in OTC medication markets and seasonality, and used the monthly changes in stores’ sleep aid market share to control for short-term trends. Relative to the overall OTC medication market, sleep aid market shares were growing prior to recreational cannabis availability. The trend reverses (a 236% decrease) with dispensary entry (−0.33 percentage points, 95% CI −0.43 to −0.24, p < 0.01) from a mean market share growth of 0.14 ± 0.97. The magnitude of the market share decline increases as more dispensaries enter a county and with higher county-level cannabis sales. The negative associations are driven by diphenhydramine- and doxylamine-based sleep aids rather than herbal sleep aids and melatonin. These findings support survey evidence that many individuals use cannabis to treat insomnia, although sleep disturbances are not a specific qualifying condition under any U.S. state-level medical cannabis law. Investigations designed to measure the relative effectiveness and side effect profiles of conventional OTC sleep aids and cannabis-based products are urgently needed to improve treatment of sleep disturbances while minimizing potentially serious negative side effects.

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